‘From the Ashes of an Empire’ – The Book of Boba Fett Chapter One: Stranger in a Strange Land

The Post-Jedi Origins of Boba Fett

We open The Book of Boba Fett’s opening chapter, Stranger in a Strange Land, with the framing of two origin stories. The first of these conveys the most traditional of origins, a look at young Boba Fett as he cradles his father’s decapitated head. It’s a scene lifted directly from Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), and although a younger iteration of the character has been explored during Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2020), it’s inclusion here suggests this new show is going to examine the inner workings of Fett’s mind during his earlier years. Oddly enough, the exploration of young Boba Fett never comes to pass for the remainder of this story. It’s here presumably to remind us of this character’s defining moment, only for it to be completely ditched in favour of a second and presumably less traditional origin.

The second origin, and one that quickly establishes itself as one of The Book of Boba Fett’s central narratives takes place shortly after Fett is consumed by a Sarlacc during the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983). Following on from his considerably graphic escape from the belly of the beast, we are invited to witness an extended flashback, chronicling the events Fett endured immediately after (or perhaps during) the events of Return of the Jedi. His Mandalorian armer is stolen by Jawas, leaving him at the mercy of the Tusken raiders who take him as their prisoner.

Though it’s odd to set-up a potential early years origin story, only for it to be immediately dropped in favour of establishing a post Return of the Jedi one, this makes a lot of sense. There’s often been a belief amongst various Star Wars fans that Boba Fett is more interesting as a mystery. The idea of adding backstory to the man who went on to work for Vader in some capacity during the reign of Galactic Empire causes some fans to shudder. Though I’ve never seen applying character to someone who was essentially a prop during the original trilogy, there is some logic to this idea. Trying to flesh out a pre-existing character can run the risk of making them less interesting. Why work to expand stories or characters that have already had their time when you could be focusing on introducing new ones to develop? Except in the case of Boba Fett, creator Jon Favreau doesn’t appear to be adding backstory to Empire-era Fett (at least not in this specific chapter), he’s creating a post-Empire Story, one that is more interested in exploring the character outside the context of the original trilogy, as opposed to examining the bounty hunting days some fans have been so passionate to maintain as a mystery.

In many respects, this allows Favreau to have his cake as well as eat it. The Book of Boba Fett steers clear of the character made famous by George Lucas between 1977 and 1983, it’s inviting us to learn about a new iteration of the character, one living after the collapse of the Galactic Empire. It’s not a story about how Fett became Fett, but one in which he transitions into someone new. Character development is favoured over character destiny; meaning Favreau can play with a pre-built Lucasfilm toy without distorting its original image in any way.

There are still huge risks to this approach, of course. We saw fans turn on Rian Johnson after he attempted to reinvent Luke Skywalker during Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017). There remains a risk of displeasing viewers if the transition into something new displeases people’s expectations in anyway. Which is perhaps why Stranger in a Strange Land attempts to turn this transition into a story, more so than an exercise in reinvention for the sake of telling a new story. Perhaps that’s the difference here between the shift in Luke’s behaviour during the sequel trilogy. Not only are we getting a new version of an existing character, we are invited to question why that character may have changed, and what ordeal he went through in order to get from A to B in the first place.

Stranger in a Strange Land depicts Boba Fett as his identity is stripped from him. His armour is stripped from him, he finds himself a prisoner forced to carry out labour for a tribe of Tusken Raiders, and his attempts to flee the tribe incarcerating ends in humiliating failure. His days of capturing heroes in favour of turning a profit by the galaxy-domineering Empire have been reduced to nothing. Much like Palpatine’s domain, the Fett of the original trilogy has been reduced to dust. His reign died in the acidic depths of the Sarlacc’s stomach. Yet much like the Empire itself, from the ashes of its destruction, the opportunity to rebuild remains on the table. The only question now is, how will such a man rebuild? And what will such a reinvention look like?

Ocular Storytelling

As well as attempting to sell its audience an attractive question, Stranger in a Strange Land must also sell its storytelling capabilities to its audience. Whereas viewers from it’s parent show, The Mandalorian (2019-present), are expected to come along for the ride, if Book of Boba Fett is unable to offer an appealing story, those tuning in will quickly take their customer elsewhere. To ensure their figures remain high throughout their seven-week run, the opening 10-minutes of this pilot works to pitch itself as a story with chops.

Hiring Robert Rodriguez makes a lot of sense when considered in this context. Regardless of what you think of the quality of his work, which can range between impressive to downright awful, he’s a remarkable visual storyteller. He knows how to move a story primarily with images alone. Stranger in a Strange Land offers an impeccable example of his talents in this department, particularly during the opening 10-minutes.  Without using any dialogue, with exception of the odd Tusken hiss from time to time, Rodriguez depicts a string of events that chronicle Fett’s imprisonment at the hands of the Tusken kinfolk. This is perhaps the episode’s most engaging of moments, mirroring the non-dialogue combat shown all the way back in the Mandalorian’s second chapter, The Child.

What’s most remarkable about 10-minute, dialogue free segment, is just how much information is communicated to audiences. We learn of Fett’s decent into despair, of his desperation to flee his captors, end even the subtle shifts in regards to his relationship toward his captors. As the episode progresses, the shift in body language between Fett and the Tusken’s adjusts as circumstance change. One scene in particular which emphasises this, is the moment in which a fleeing Fett spares the life of a Tuskan child. As Fett runs off into the night time desert, the camera pans around to the focus on the kid he’s just shown mercy to. The lingering shot conveys a moment of change that will ultimately go on to define the closing moments of this episode. During this sequence, Fett is hit and dragged around by the Tuskens as though he’s nothing, yet as the story progresses, his captors are shown to take an interest in their detainee. The transition from prisoner to ally is a story that’s conveyed without a single iota of dialogue. It’s a remarkable achievement, one in which takes one of Star Wars’ most believed of assets, it’s visual landscape, and uses it to tell a story.

All of this is The Book of Boba Fett’s attempt to sell itself to audiences as an engaging and competent series, one that’s capable of telling a story by leaning into the franchise’s visual qualities. Star Wars is infamous for bad dialogue and famous for beautiful optics. If a TV show can spend a sizeable portion of its opening episode keeping its distance from the former while embracing the latter, then perhaps there’s a justification for its existence after all.

Political Shenanigans on Tatooine

Seeing as Star Wars is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… it’s perhaps safe to say that none of the stories are set in the “present” as we understand it. Nonetheless, to avoid confusion, whenever discussing the events from The Book of Boba Fett set after the events of Mandalorian series two, I shall refer to them as the present day. Now that we’ve got that cleared up, let’s look at the episode’s non-flashbacks and deduce what their purpose entails.

Around six-years after his imprisonment at the hands of the Tuskens, Fett has claimed the throne of Bib Fortuna, becoming the new crime-lord of Tatooine. The mid-portion of this episode spends a majority of its runtime exploring this particular period, giving us a feel for the environment Fett and sidekick, Fennec Shand, have inherited from the late Fortuna. We quickly learn that usurping Fortuna isn’t going to be as smooth sailing as it may have been when he kicked back on his new throne during The Mandalorian’s post-credit sequence back in series two. A visit from Mayor Mok Shaiz’s grating assistant, Majordomo forshadows a political conflict that is likely to causes a handful of headaches for Fett as he attempts to cling on to his newly self-appointed power.

In addition to learning about the foundations of the political conflict Fett has thrust himself amidst, we also learn a fair detail about his moral compass during the present day sequences. He refuses to torture his enemies, rebuffs the idea of been ferried around on a litter as his predecessors preferred, and he even gives his opponents the opportunity to work for him before resorting to any sort of violence. This is an introduction to a very different version of Fett as presented in the original Star Wars trilogy. The man who once worked for Vader and happily transformed members of the galaxy’s saviours into carbonite statues now appears somewhat merciful in nature. Sure, the fact he’s running a crime-syndicate makes him no goodie two shoes in the eyes of most, yet his attempt to venture away from the fear-induced ruling tactics applied by Jabba the Hut and Bib Fortuna hint toward a man who does not wish to inflict suffering upon the people of Tatooine, if it can be avoided.  

Whereas there is very little connection between the past and present narratives playing alongside one another (more on this shortly), there’s a hint that whatever inspired Fett’s change of heart, lies in the dream-induced flashbacks occupying this episode. Whereas the flashbacks depict an era of Fett’s life in which his identity as a merciless Bounty Hunter are stripped down, the present day story introduces us to a changed man. This is the central question driving Stranger in a Strange Land. Fett is a someone who has been reborn, but what led him toward such a transformative rebirth?

Dreaming of Yesteryear

There is certainly a link of sorts between the two plot lines running through Stranger in a Strange Land. There’s even a thematic connection that ties both time periods to the episode’s title. In both eras, Boba is a man thrust into a new world. One in which he must forfeit what he thought he knew in order to adapt to this strange new land he finds himself in. In the case of the flashback, he’s trying to figure out how to operate as a prisoner at the mercy of the Tuskens. In the present, he is figuring out how to navigate a political terrain it’s clear he has little understanding of. Then there is the driving mystery generated through both stories. The past breaks Fett down, whereas the present shows us a changed man. The gaps that have yet to be filled between points A and B generate intrigue. Their lack of a solid connection oddly makes them feel more connected in this respect.

All of this does no mean the inclusion of two distinct time periods doesn’t pose problems for this episode. It certainly does, particularly when it comes to how the transition between past and present are executed.

Most films and television shows that make use of multiple timestreams often treat flashbacks as a conscious memory; a character recalling past events after an object or conversation has jogged their memory. Here, Favreau and Rodriguez are attempting to try out something a little different. Past memories aren’t triggered via our heroes actively remembering, but are reconstructed through the dreams Fett has while repairs his body in his Bacta Tank. It’s a peculiar way of establishing flashbacks, particularly when dreams are not known for reconstructing past recollections in a traditional sense of the word. Dreams usually distort and rewrite memories, creating unique works of fiction that do not correlate with how we actually recall them.

None of this would be too much of a problem if the whole point of these flashbacks were to create some sort of unreliable narrative intended to distort our understanding of Fett’s rebirth. Except as far as the episode is concerned, the flashbacks appear to be giving us an accurate depiction of his time spent with the Tuskans. In which case, why emphasise the fact that he’s actively dreaming of them when we whisk back?

Having the two stories be separated via states of consciousness creates a gap between these two stories that can feel quite jarring at this stage in the game, and although it’s refreshing to see a different attempt from the more cliched transitions, it doesn’t quite work. The events of the present are not inspiring his memories of the past, which in turn implies both stories are not unconnected. If you wish to incorporate flashbacks into a narrative, it’s important to establish a tangible connection between both timeframes, hence why material recollections are such useful tools when it comes to initiating them. If you’re just having them be dreams not brought about by events transpiring in the “real” world, then you’re essentially saying they have little to do with the primary story.

Incorporating the Bacta tank as the bridge between timeframes makes whole affair feel awkward and disjointed. For much of the intrigue brought about by having these two periods play out alongside one another, the heavy-handed time shifts feel so clunky, it makes for something of a confused pilot episode.

Final Verdict

As far as opening episodes go, Stranger in a Strange Land delivers as intended. We’re invited to witness a story in which a beloved character is stripped of his former identity and rebuilt into a new man. The episode invites us to consider how Fett rebuilt himself into a new man, then proceeds to drip feed us knowledge on how such a transition came about. Furthermore, a central mystery bubbles under the surface, teasing of a looming threat in the form of Tatooine’s crime-ridden political landscape. It may well be a story containing more mystery than solutions, but it’s enough to keep us hooked for the weeks to come.

There’s also some incredible visual storytelling on show here, justifying the regular incorporation of Robert Rodriguez as the series’ lead director. His ability to convey fluctuating relationships between Fett and a species who cannot understand is outstanding. The opening 10-minutes alone sells us a vision and a talent that makes future instalments ever more appealing.

It’s biggest weakness lies in its decision to have its flashbacks function as dream sequences as opposed to recollections triggered by story events. While both the past and present stories will no doubt interconnect by the time the series comes to a close, this feels horribly unwieldly at this moment in time. Dreams as narrative gateways don’t really work in the context of a flashback, and although it’s nice to see creator Jon Favreau try out a new way of moving between time periods, it demotes the episode from a straight up winner to a lumbering romp.

A very good start that ticks plenty of the right boxes, but certainly not a well-oiled machine at this stage in the game.

Published by Amber Poppitt

I'm a writer from the UK with dreams of someday becoming a professional screenwriter. I also happen to be a huge film/TV/novel enthusiast with an undying obsession toward Doctor Who.

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